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garden, kitchen, recipes, small town life

Canning Summer: Raspberry Rhubarb Jam

07/16/2020
Black Raspberry Bush at This American House

One of the absolute joys of summer – even a summer that’s been disrupted by a global pandemic and crazy politics – is the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. A previous owner planted black raspberry bushes on the far side of the new garage at the Meier House. For the first few years of our ownership, we let these raspberry bushes go wild. And then every summer we’d pick a few raspberries and promise ourselves that one day we’d tame the bushes and get a proper harvest. Well, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and having a little more time on our hands, we’re finally keeping that promise.

Early this spring, when the raspberry bushes were just starting to sprout leaves, I donned my trusty garden gloves and grabbed the garden clippers, some twine and three long metal poles. I pushed the poles into the soil, one at each end of the bushes and one in the middle, and used them to string twine across the length of the bushes. I pruned the bushes and then used more twine to secure branches and try to create some order to the twisted vines. I had no idea whether this would provide a better raspberry harvest later in the summer, but it certainly made it easier to mow around the bushes.

Fresh raspberries floating in a bowl

Oh boy did it make a difference! Every day over the past two weeks we’ve been harvesting bowls full of the delicious little berries. At first we were eating them as fast as we could pick them. Raspberries in yogurt, raspberries smashed on toast, raspberries by the handful…! Raspberries!

After getting our fill of fresh berries, it was time to preserve. I considered freezing them but we wanted something that would last a little longer. You know, something that we could pop open on a winter day to get a little taste of summer. We bake a lot of breads, biscuits and muffins during the winter months so the answer seemed obvious – jam! And since we also have an abundance of rhubarb, I decided to combine two summer treats into one delicious jam.

We spent a Saturday afternoon making a raspberry rhubarb jam that will deliver a delicious taste of summer to those cold winter months. And, really, once you make homemade jam, you’ll never want to buy it again. Not only is homemade easy, it’s free of preservatives and oh so delicious. It’s really just a few simple ingredients: fruit, sugar, pectin and time.

Basically, all cooked jams are the same recipe:

Ingredients:
5 cups prepared fruit – in this case I used a mix of raspberries and rhubarb
1 box fruit pectin
1/2 tsp. butter or margarine
7 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl

Directions:
Mash the berries, chop the rhubarb and then combine. Add the fruit and pectin to a large stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Once the fruit mixture comes to a rolling boil, stir in all 7 cups of sugar. Continue cooking over high heat until it returns to full rolling boil. Boil for exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim off any foam with a metal spoon and wham bam thank you jam!

Now that you have jam, it’s time to can. Place your jam in warm sterilized canning jars, place lids and caps on top and then process in a hot water canner to enjoy that summer feeling all year long. You’ll find instructions for canning on the Ball/Kerr website.

Jam on, friends!

history, small town life

The Meier House Has Known Quarantine Before

05/04/2020

Delbert and Grace Meier House - an American System-Built Home in Iowa

We, like much of the rest of the country, are sheltering in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19. As we go about our days trying to create normalcy out of an abnormal situation, we keep finding ourselves talking about how strange this all is, how it feels unreal to be living this experience. And then we’re reminded that this is not the first quarantine this house has known.

When Delbert and Grace Meier, along with their daughters Esther and Martha, moved into their newly constructed American System-Built Home in the fall of 1917, they were most likely filled with excitement. The family had been renting an apartment above Del’s office while the house was constructed so we can imagine that the three-bedroom single family home must have been a welcome change from the cramped quarters of that temporary lodging. Little did they know that they were about to spend an extended period of time getting acquainted with their new abode.

The flu outbreak of 1918 was the deadliest pandemic to hit America, infecting an estimated 500 millions and claiming the lives of over 600,000 Americans. The country, already gripped by its entrance into World War I, struggled to respond to the virus. Much like today, cities and communities disagreed on whether quarantining was necessary. Quite famously, the city of Philadelphia held a parade that set off a second wave of the virus that went on to claim some 15,000 lives. Still, other communities heeded health officials’ warnings and closed schools, movie theaters and other public gatherings to prevent the spread. (source)

Monona, Iowa, was one of the communities that took protective measures against the Spanish flu.Delbert likely closed his law office temporarily and the girls would have stayed home from school. And so we can imagine that the Meier family sheltered in place in their newly constructed home on Page Street … and somehow everyone managed to get through it.

If you think it’s hard to shelter in place in 2020, with our televisions and computers and internet and a whole world at our fingertips, can you imagine what it would have been like in 1918/1919? With many stores closed and even some mail service interrupted by the pandemic, the Meiers would have been limited to reading the books they had on hand and working on crafts and projects for which they had already purchased supplies. Whereas we receive up-to-the-minute updates from radio, television and streaming press conferences, news would have arrived slowly to this rural community via newspaper. That newspaper must have felt like a lifeline and as a welcome distraction during the quarantine.

All this is to say that we’ll get through this, too. This experience may feel strange and the world may not look the same on the other end of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it could all be much, much worse. Medical advances of the past 100 years are helping to keep the death toll from spiking as high as it did during the Spanish flu pandemic. Global transportation networks are keeping us supplied with necessities even as much of society is shut down. But, most importantly, we could be dependent on early-20th century technology to get us through this quarantine.

Thank Gore for the internet!

cleaning, making do, small town life

Bovine Battle: You Can’t Always Get What You Want

04/21/2020
Springtime at the Meier House means stretching out the retractable clotheslines on the back of the new garage and drying our laundry with sunlight and fresh air. It’s kind of a yearly tradition here. Come late-March you’ll start seeing sheets, duvet covers, towels, curtains and other laundry flapping in the wind. After being cooped up in the stale indoor air all winter, there’s nothing more refreshing than laundry dried outdoors. It makes the laundry and, in the case of bedding, the entire room smell as fresh as a summer afternoon. Unless, that is, the farm across the street from our house is spreading manure. Suddenly, as we experienced over the weekend, that fresh air takes on a whole different fragrance. Did you know that a strong manure odor will transfer to laundry that’s drying on a clothesline? We certainly didn’t think it would! But we were wrong. The bedroom still smells like a summer afternoon … if you’re spending that afternoon standing in a cow pasture. Cows: 1, Misters: 0.
architecture, Famous Places, Prairie School

Alfred Bersbach House: Van Bergen’s Prairie Masterpiece

03/01/2020

Alfred Bersbach House - Wilmette, Illinois

We happened down a side street in Wilmette, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago, today and came across this house that could very easily be mistaken for one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs. In fact, as we learned from our old friend Wikipedia, back in the 1950s and ’70s, real estate listings mistakenly attributed the house to Mr. Wright. It’s actually one of John S. Van Bergen‘s designs. Built in 1915 for Alfred Bersbach, it doesn’t get any more Prairie School than this lakefront estate!

Sadly, it looks like this gorgeous example of Prairie School design, a house that is often called John S. Van Bergen’s masterpiece, is about to see some big (and perhaps fatal!) changes. This big old house, as gorgeous as it is in its early-20th-century glory, is dwarfed by the modern McMansions around it. Judging by the demolition notice, we fear that the Bersbach house will soon be replaced with something far less significant.

This, we’re reminded, is the importance of stewardship. We don’t actually know that the Alfred Bersbach House is going to meet the wrecking ball, but we do know that too many houses of architectural significance do meet that fate.

Every now and then we wonder why we bought the Delbert and Grace Meier House. What compelled us to invest our energies (and money!) in a 100+ year old house?

This, ladies and gentlemen, this is why we became the stewards of the Meier House. Because we need more stewards. We need more love for old houses. We need more appreciation for the past. We need these houses to remain standing as a reminder of how we’ve lived, of who we’ve been.

Interestingly, there is a brick column near the property line that marks the location as a “Wilmette Local Landmark.” Here’s hoping that you’re getting a little refresh, Alfred Bersbach House, and not a full teardown. If not, at least we got to spend a little time with you today.

before & after, renovation, stripping paint

Before & After: Stripped and Refinished Living Room Trim

02/02/2020

It’s been over a year in the making and there were times when we questioned the project altogether but we’re finally ready to reveal the refinished trim in the living room. But first, take a moment to reflect on the photo above. This snapshot shows the living room as it looked before we kicked off this project. The trim was still painted the same white that went on some time in the late 1960’s. (Fortunately the doors have never been painted.) The walls were still covered in the gray paint that we slapped on when we first moved in six years ago. (It was supposed to be gray anyway. It has always read as blue – much to our chagrin.) We had finally decided to upcycle the old kitchen cabinets as new fireplace built-ins and they’re sitting there, having been cut apart, stripped, reassembled and rebuilt.

This whole trim refinishing project actually started with those cabinets. We had been in a serious rut of procrastination while deciding what to do about the house’s interior trim. Should we take the easy route and re-paint the woodwork or take the much longer – and possibly more satisfying – route and strip it? It wasn’t until we started placing the newly refurbished fireplace cabinets in the room that we were forced to make a decision. Whatever we did with those cabinets – stain the stripped wood or paint it – would dictate how we’d approach the woodwork. Well, after we stripped the cabinets and set them in place, the honey hued wood seemed to warm the space. And with that, our decision was made. Stain the cabinets … and thus strip all the woodwork too.  

Mind you, we kind of liked the white trim. It’s not difficult to recognize the intention of the owner who first painted it back in the ’60s. The white trim seems to not just brighten the space; it also brings a modern sensibility to it. It transforms the interior from Prairie style to a more modern Craftsman look. But then we scraped the first patch of paint from the wood and revealed the dark grain beneath it and knew that we were making the right decision.

Suddenly, the house looks, well, like it’s supposed to look. The dark trim stands out – even more so now that we’ve repainted the walls in an off-white color. (We’re so happy to finally say goodbye to that gray-masquerading-as-blue!)

Living Room of Delbert Meier House - before stripping the trim

Every little aspect of the room works now. The dark trim plays nicely with the gray fireplace brick, not to mention working seamlessly with the wood doors. Even the windows look better now that they’re framed in dark wood trim.

Now, about those beams … Again, we can see what the owner who installed the beams was thinking. It was the 1970s and faux beams were all the rage. They actually kind of worked when the trim was painted white. As we slowly bring the house back to its 1917-era charm, however, the beams seem more and more out of place. We’re anxious to remove them but also wary of biting off a bigger DIY project than we can chew. Sure, removing the beams may be easy. After all, demolition is the most fun part of any project. Patching the ceiling, on the other hand, is a task too daunting for these novices. That said, the owners of the Elizabeth Murphy House have offered to come out and help us remove the beams later this year. We may just take them up on that!

For now, though, we’re going to sit back in our freshly rearranged living room and admire a job well done. Not for long, mind you. Stripping the living room trim is just the beginning. We’ve already moved on to the entry and stairwell and have plans to also strip the trim in the dining room in the near future. The end goal is to take the first floor of the house – the public space, so to speak – back to its original look. The living room is the largest room on the the first floor so we’re happy to have that behind us.

Onward we go!